Ending a protracted dispute with California regulators, Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, Calif., has agreed to pay a record-setting $1 million fine to settle allegations that it suffered from "systematic" problems in delivering timely patient care.
The state Department of Managed Health Care first levied the fine in May 2000 on behalf of Margaret Utterback, a 74-year-old Medicare patient who died of a ruptured aortic aneurysm at Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Hayward in 1996 after what family members called unconscionable delays in getting emergency care for abdominal pain.
Kaiser had vigorously contested the fine, asking a federal judge in December 2001 to issue a contempt-of-court citation against department director Daniel Zingale. The HMO argued unsuccessfully that Zingale had overstepped his authority by bringing evidence from other Kaiser Medicare patients into the case and that Medicare beneficiaries were under the purview of federal law, not Zingale's department.
But last Friday, Kaiser officials conceded that the state has the authority to discipline the HMO, though they continued to deny that their medical-care system was flawed. -- by Laura B. Benko